During the Crusades, and expansionist, imperialistic Christendom brutalized, looted, and colonized a tolerant and peaceful Islam. (8)But is this true? Rodney Stark examines this thesis in, God Battalions: The Case for the Crusades.
Stark begins by exploring characterizations of Muslim culture at that time. He notes that Muslim conquest was accomplished largely through small but superior Arab forces that set up military occupation in regions they conquered. By treaty, regions officially become Muslim. Yet in most regions it was 250 years before 50% of the population became Muslim. Furthermore, the historical record shows that most of the great advances in science and other intellectual pursuits, came from the dhimmi, the people under the “protection” of the Muslim rulers … in most cases Eastern Christians. The Muslims had the works of the Greeks but tended to treat writings on science, for example, much like the Qur’an … something to which all observations must be made to conform, not as foundations for future exploration and revision. He relates the treatment of Christians and Jews at the hand of Muslim leaders.
The rest of the book is Stark walking us through the various crusades, exploring the motivations, events, and outcomes. He hardly paints a flattering picture of the womanizing violent knights of Europe. But he shows that the Crusaders’ motivations were neither plunder or colonization (a somewhat anachronistic idea) but genuine desire to protect the Holy Land for Christian pilgrimages and to protect pilgrims from constant harassment and slayings at the hand of local forces.
Stark shows how historians have frequently distorted events. For instance, it is pointed out that when the Christians conquered Jerusalem, they slaughtered the inhabitants, but when the Muslims retook Jerusalem they sold some into slavery and let others go. However, when the Christians laid siege to Jerusalem, the inhabitants would not surrender. When the Muslims laid siege to the city, the inhabitants did surrendered. In both cases, Christians and Muslims acted according to the custom of the day. The same Muslim forces that were ”gracious” at Jerusalem, wiped out other cities that would not surrender. Stark also notes that there is a widely held myth that the Crusades have been a festering sore spot for Muslims for centuries. In fact, it appears that this meme emerged at the end of the Nineteenth Century as European powers began to take interest in the Middle East and was probably built on Eighteenth Century Enlightenment proponents' attempts to discredit the Catholic Church.
Again, Stark’s analysis neither defends nor condones the mindset and actions of the Crusaders. It is rather the mischaracterization of both Christian and Muslim history that he takes issue with. Written in Stark’s characteristic engaging style, it is a great read for anyone wanting better insight into this era history.